BP: New Charges That Will Hurt Its Stock

| About: BP p.l.c. (BP)

BP (NYSE:BP), still battling through the Gulf of Mexico spill, has been featured in the press on an almost daily basis recently, with few positive things to report.

Most recently, an ex-employee of the company, Kurt Mix, was arrested. The charges leveled against Mix are not related to the actual disaster itself, but specifically to claims that the company tried to cover up the severity of the spill after the disaster took place. The charges also state that the company purposely initiated operations that were far from likely to succeed, in its supposed attempt to stop the leak. Mix is accused of deleting about 300 incriminating text messages that support these allegations. However, the company maintains that Mix will be acquitted, as the information contained in those deleted messages was also contained in a number of emails and other correspondence, which Mix purposely saved. Whatever the truth of the matter is, this is just one more strike against BP in terms of reputation, and possibly, stockholder confidence.

The case against Mix could not have come at a worse time. The courts were just about to grant preliminary approval of a $7.8 billion civil settlement between BP and the committee of plaintiffs, but this is now likely to be severely delayed. The delay means that BP will have to deal with the aftermath of the spill for a long time yet to come. Although Mix has been released on bail, he is required to stay in Texas or Louisiana and to appear in court in New Orleans at the beginning of May.

BP insists that it attempted to do everything in its power to preserve all evidence related to the spill, as it is required to do by law in such circumstances. It also maintains that despite the recent arrest of Mix, it has been cooperating with the government in the investigation. Be that as it may, the situation does not reflect well on BP's standing, currently or in the past.

Kurt Mix's arrest is not the only thing delaying the approval of the private settlement BP is attempting to negotiate with the plaintiffs in the case. Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) is opposing the settlement. Halliburton is also implicated in the Gulf spill and objects to the settlement as it makes the company "liable in part for settlement payments". Halliburton also claims that more time is needed to analyze the settlement agreements. Halliburton expressed the desire to reach settlements itself with plaintiffs and indicated that it would not be made to contribute to the payments BP makes to those plaintiffs.

In addition to this, a group of shrimp processors are also opposing the settlement. They claim that the settlement unfairly excludes them and that they will not be sufficiently recompensed for the damage that the oil spill caused to their livelihood. They claim that the settlement does not cover everyone and everything affected, such as docks, processors, distributors and packaging supply businesses, which were also severely affected by the oil spill.

Worse, more mutated and ill fish and other marine animals have been spotted in the area. It seems, BP will have to make up for the severe damage it has caused to the fishing industry in the gulf. The financial burden is huge and stock may tumble because of it.

As if this was not enough, BP is also currently engaged in a lawsuit with Argentina-based Bridas. BP is suing Bridas over a collapsed deal the two companies entered into when BP needed to raise funds to cover legal and clean-up costs related to the Gulf spill. If BP loses the case, it will be Bridas which receives millions of dollars in compensation because of the deal's termination.

BP is not the only oil company struggling at present. ATP Oil & Gas (ATPG) has experienced a significant decrease in the last year and all but the most bullish of traders have chosen to sell its stock. I'd have to agree and the news must be welcomed by the hurting BP.

BP competitor Chevron (NYSE:CVX) was recently acquitted of any wrongdoing in a long-standing lawsuit against the people of Nigeria. Chevron was accused of being liable for the deaths and injuries of several Nigerian villagers were protesting Chevron's drilling activities, nearly 14 years ago. Although Chevron has been acquitted, there may yet be some unfortunate backlash for the stock.

Another BP competitor experiencing fairly remarkable setbacks right now is Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC). Recently, it came to light that the company's intentions to begin oil drilling operations in the Centerra area of Loveland, Colorado, have been halted. The lease to start drilling has yet to be signed by Anadarko and the Centerra developer McWhinney. If the lease is signed, the success of the operation would work to improve Anadarko stock and go a long way to repairing its negative image that Anadarko's carried since its involvement in the BP oil spill. However, the operations may be halted indefinitely, especially as the residents in the area have only recently been informed of the events and have expressed their outrage.

Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG) is one of the few companies in the market that seems able to keep its head above water. While other companies seem to be on the brink of decline or even complete destruction, Cabot just keeps on going. One instance of this is the development of a new natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania. This pipeline will add significantly to Cabot's profits and thereby have a positive effect on the stock.

While BP struggles to find its way out of the courtroom, it must be keeping close watch on its competitors. Lucky for BP, many of these competitors seem to be struggling at the moment. But how long will that last? BP needs to get back to production and profiting, much in the way that Cabot has been successful while BP awaits new settlement offers and plaintiff hearings. I can't advise anyone to buy BP until the Gulf ramifications clear, and even then, it's unclear whether the company will find its footing again.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.